May 11, 2023

Purdue mourns the death of alum and trustee William ‘Bill’ Oesterle after 5-year battle with ALS

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Entrepreneur, marketing genius, community activist and Angie’s List founder William “Bill” Oesterle was destined to be a Boilermaker for life.

Oesterle died at his home early Wednesday (May 10) after a five-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS. See obituary.

He grew up in West Lafayette, raised by highly educated parents with strong ties to Purdue University. His father, Eric C. Oesterle, served nearly four decades as an agricultural economics professor, and his mother, Germaine Oesterle, stopped just short of gaining a doctoral degree in plant pathology from Cornell University to get married.

The youngest of their five children, Bill Oesterle earned an honors degree in economics from Purdue’s School of Management in 1987. Even after he received an MBA from Harvard Business School and established a successful business career — including as co-founder of consumer ratings leader Angie’s List (now known as Angi) — and planted deep political roots across Indiana, Oesterle remained ever true to the old gold and black.

Committed to pay forward for what Purdue had done for him throughout his life, Oesterle served as a member of the university’s Board of Trustees from 2005-10 and rarely missed an opportunity to support the mission of the alma mater located in his hometown.

“I’m not often at a loss for words, but trying to imagine a world without Bill Oesterle leaves me that way. He was a job creator, a community builder, a lifelong advocate for Indiana and a person with an enormous heart for others,” said former Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “He always said I was the person who persuaded him to return to Indiana: If that is so, it’s the single service I’m most proud of.”  

Among Oesterle’s efforts to give back to Purdue, he:

  • Funded the establishment of the Germaine Seelye Oesterle Chair in History in honor of his mother in December 2006.
  • Provided a $1 million gift in 2009 to honor his great-aunt in establishing the Olga Oesterle England Professorship of Information Technology. This was Purdue’s first endowed professorship in information technology.
  • Pledged $250,000 in 2008 toward the $5 million Presidential and Trustees Scholarship Challenge, aimed at attracting high-achieving high school students to Purdue. That scholarship challenge was part of the university’s $304 million Access and Success campaign to expand student aid and programs.

“Bill Oesterle fought for growth in Indiana and innovation at Purdue throughout the decades. He fought the incredibly courageous final battle with the humility and conviction that is found in the very best Boilermakers,” praised Purdue President Mung Chiang. “His contributions to our university have been wide and deep. We mourn the tremendous loss to our state and our university community. And even though Bill would not have liked hearing this: We are truly inspired by his life.” 

Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, said Oesterle will be deeply missed by the entire Purdue family. “I will be forever grateful for meeting Bill. He recommended Mitch appoint me to the Board of Trustees and mentored me during my first year,” Berghoff said.

Business empire focus

His love for all things Purdue notwithstanding, Oesterle also is known nationally as the founding CEO of Angie’s List. He served there for 16 years and eventually took the Indianapolis-based company public in 2011. Oesterle stepped down as CEO in 2015 just before the consumer ratings company was purchased by IAC, the parent company of HomeAdvisor, in a $500 million deal in October 2017.

The IAC subsidiary Angi, based in Colorado, helps consumers choose service companies based on reviews and experiences posted by its members. With a list of authentic consumer reviews checked by over 6 million U.S. households each year, Angi remains a major player today in a home-services market that approaches $500 billion annually.

Like many startups, the idea behind Angie’s List is actually quite simple, one of those everyday problems Oesterle faced while living in Columbus, Ohio, as a partner with venture capital firm CID Equity Partners. Looking to renovate his home, Oesterle struggled to find a reliable contractor. And he recalled the value of Unified Neighbors, a helpful consumer ratings service in his former home of Indianapolis. He thought Columbus would benefit from such a service.

So, in 1995, Oesterle reached out to Angela R. Hicks Bowman, the eventual “Angie” behind Angie’s List who had interned for Oesterle at his venture capital firm while she was in college. He convinced Hicks, who was finishing her economics degree at DePauw University, to lead the new company, Columbus Neighbors. The first year, Hicks recruited over 1,000 members in Columbus and then turned to Oesterle to raise money from investors to develop the business.

The company bought Unified Neighbors in 1996 and moved its headquarters to Indianapolis. At its peak, Angie’s List had more than 2,000 employees and annual sales of $326 million, and its headquarters on the east side of downtown Indianapolis comprised 25 buildings, 1,000 parking spaces, 190,000 square feet of office space, a historic diner, a cafe and a fitness center.

Cajoled Mitch Daniels into political stardom

Before his rise in the corporate suite, leading to several startups and highlighted by the launch of Angie’s List in 1995, Oesterle’s professional career actually was launched in politics, where he took a one-year appointment in 1987 to lead a new program established by Indiana Gov. Robert Orr designed to boost the state’s international trade.

When that appointment ended, Orr aide Mark Lubbers convinced Oesterle to join him in a fundraising role at the Hudson Institute, a public policy research center based in Indianapolis at that time. Lubbers also convinced Oesterle that a Harvard MBA would have a life-changing impact on his career trajectory.

During his time at the Hudson Institute, Oesterle made another connection to a leader that would shape his next assignment — Hudson’s then-president, Mitch Daniels. That connection changed the course of Indiana history in 2003, when Oesterle persuaded Daniels to come back to the state after serving as U.S President George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget to run for governor. In return, Daniels convinced Oesterle to serve as campaign manager for the first of what eventually were two successful runs for governor.

Oesterle’s time with the Orr administration paved the way for another fruitful venture in his home state. Convinced Indiana was losing promising college graduates to other states, Oesterle, while leading Angie’s List, joined with Hicks, the company’s chief marketing officer, and Purdue alumnus Scott Brenton, with another plan: launch the Orr Fellowships program as a way to counter Indiana’s “brain drain” problem. Since its 2001 founding, the two-year program that connects high-caliber college graduates with high-growth companies has had a huge impact on the growth of central Indiana business and the tech industry in particular.

“We’re tossing them out with the hope that they’ll just wander back,” Oesterle told the Indianapolis Star in January 2002.

After Daniels’ first term as Indiana governor, Oesterle returned full time to leading Angie’s List, eventually taking the company public in November 2011, trading on the Nasdaq exchange. In 2015, Oesterle announced plans to step down as the company’s CEO to become “more civically involved in the state of Indiana.”

In announcing his decision to step down, Oesterle said, “I am extremely proud of all that we have accomplished, especially seeing Angie’s List grow to where we are now connecting millions of consumers across the country with leading service providers in their areas. The decision to leave was not an easy one. But as I begin the transition to the next chapter, I have great confidence in the company’s continued growth and prosperity and am committed to supporting a seamless transition.”

Oesterle’s philanthropic efforts include founding Friends of 38th in 2021 to help revitalize Indianapolis’ 38th Street corridor, becoming a co-owner of the former Angie’s List campus and assisting in its redevelopment, and purchasing the former Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 40th and Pennsylvania streets in 2008 and leasing it at no cost to Indianapolis Opera for more than a decade until the group could afford to buy it in 2021.

For these efforts, Oesterle was named the 2021 winner of the Michael A. Carroll Award, established by the Indianapolis Business Journal to recognize community leaders who best represent the qualities demonstrated by Carroll, former Indianapolis deputy mayor and Lilly Endowment Inc. executive.

Oesterle told the IBJ the fact that these are for-profit ventures, and not charities, is important: “Capitalism, to me, is about solving problems. If you can do that at scale, you’re successful. I’m trying to line up incentives so that we can face this big problem on the scale of tens of thousands of people. I don’t think you can do that with just not-for-profit support. There’s not enough of it.”

Ongoing commitment to his alma mater

When Oesterle decided to relinquish his Purdue trustee position in August 2010 to focus more of his time on his business endeavors, then Purdue President France Córdova praised his deep passion and love for the university and his commitment to its success. 

In recent years, Oesterle led his post-Angie’s List startup TMap, which continued his life’s mission for the state of Indiana — retaining and recruiting talented people. Within TMap’s operations is MakeMyMove, a service that recruits remote workers to Indiana on behalf of clients, including Purdue and other universities and towns. He also remained executive chairman of OurHealth in Indianapolis.

At Purdue, MakeMyMove operates as Work From Purdue, which is being directed by Purdue Research Foundation. Through the program, remote workers from outside Indiana can relocate to Discovery Park District at Purdue in West Lafayette.

Oesterle’s love for Purdue also had creative applications. Leading up to the Drew Brees-led Boilermakers’ Big Ten football title and appearance in the 2001 Rose Bowl, Oesterle, his wife, Kristi, and close friend Brenton reconstructed an old ambulance into their own tailgating vehicle. They were on a mission: to drive the Bambalance to Pasadena, California, chronicling the 2,100-mile trip to root for the Boilermaker football team in its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1967.

Lifetime of commitment to selfless service

For his lifetime of commitment to others, Oesterle was the 2022 recipient of the Daniels Prize Award from the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation, launched by alumni of the Daniels administration at the conclusion of his final term as Indiana’s 49th governor in 2012. He was presented the award on Dec. 8, 2022.

The annual award goes to those in Indiana who have “lifted the state to a new plane of thought, aspiration, expectation and action.” In a statement, then-Daniels Foundation chair Claire Fiddian-Green said Oesterle has had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of countless people in Indiana.

“He is an innovator and deep thinker who consistently challenges Hoosiers to think bigger about how we can create positive changes in our state,” Fiddian-Green said. “He is also a bold and fearless advocate for policies and initiatives he believes will help Indiana continue to flourish. Bill exemplifies the MDLF principles of personal responsibility, individual liberty and the importance of private industry, and I am delighted that he was selected as the next Daniels Prize Award recipient.”

Oesterle’s response to winning the award from the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation:  “Once every hundred years or so, a leader emerges with the qualities of Mitch. The only conceivable justification for winning his award is that I love Indiana almost as much as he does.”

Oesterle is survived by his wife, Kristi, six children and three grandchildren. A celebration of his life is being planned for a later date.

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